This week we learned a few extra things to be thankful about, from social media companies that are helping us to better connect with each other IRL to a school in Uganda that is helping students better connect with their inner Greta Thunberg.
We also learned that having dinner with a variety of people at the table — yes, especially at Thanksgiving — “people can be seen for more than their politics.”
Read on for an introduction to government-subsidized housecleaning, the legend of Two-Point Tupa and the story of an unlikely drug activist. Here are our favorites on OZY this week.
The Future of X — Futurism at Its Best. OZY’s hit podcast delves into what’s new and what’s next in a specific industry each season, and for season two it’s taking you to the future of the workplace. Tour futuristic office scenarios, like how the next privacy battle will be over your personal productivity score and why video gamers are set to become prized employees. You can come back from the holiday weekend with lots of facts to impress your co-workers. (Recommended by Fay Schlesinger, The Host With the Most)
Residente — The Science of Bops. This Puerto Rican rapper, one of the founders of iconic alt-rap collective Calle 13, isn’t afraid to get weird. Case in point: For his upcoming sophomore album, he’s been working with scientists to take EEG readings of various animals (including himself) and match them to sound waves. For a taste, listen to his release from earlier this year, “Bellacoso.” (Recommended by Alex Furuya, Still Jammin’)
Matthew Perryman Jones — Intellectual Folk. If someone in a flannel shirt sang a Matthew Perryman Jones song to you at a party, you’d fall in love with them. Poetic and beautiful, his lyrics are filled with longing and humanity … even when they’re drawing on distinctly highbrow themes, like “O Theo,” which is based on Vincent Van Gogh’s correspondence with his brother. (Recommended by Maroosha Muzaffar, Folk Maven)
Dark Matter — The Road Not Taken. Author Blake Crouch had a hit with his Wayward Pines trilogy, which became a TV series. But this weird and wonderful novel about quantum physics is worth revisiting even if it hasn’t been given a film version (yet). This is a joyful, fascinating read about an atomic physicist, Jason Dessen, who accidentally stumbles into a parallel universe … and must scramble to get back to real life. (Recommended by Daniel Malloy, Knows His Road)
Inspector Shan Series — Your Best Tibet. This thrilling, long-running series, by international lawyer and award-winning novelist Eliot Pattinson, has all the usual adventure and murder solving you hope for from fast-paced mysteries. But what sets it apart is its fascinating sense of place — the story will have you researching the history of Tibetan monks and China’s political climate, even as you try to figure out who done it. (Recommended by Keita Davis, OZY Fan)
WHERE TO TRAVEL
Ireland’s Surfing Beaches — Winter Wonderland. Before we go any further: Yes, you will need a wetsuit to enjoy Ireland’s cold-water surfing hot spot. Prime wave season begins in September, but the real big ones are in the dead of winter (which is why you’ll see surfing legends there to try their luck). Lahinch, in County Clare, is a great place to get a taste of the Irish surfing scene, with surf schools aplenty and long sandy beaches famous for providing a learning ground for beginners. But whether you’re chasing the world’s biggest waves or just starting out, Ireland’s cold, wild surf offers an experience totally different from that of riding waves in the tropics. (Recommended by Anna Davies, Surf Queen)
AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T…
Underestimate grandma. When an intruder surprised 82-year-old Willie Murphy by breaking into her house, the elderly bodybuilder wasn’t afraid. Instead, she hit him with a table and poured shampoo in his eye, subduing him until police could get there and take him to a hospital. Murphy, who can deadlift 225 pounds, told reporters, “He picked the wrong house to break into.” (AP)
SLIDE INTO OUR DMS
Do you have a killer potato salad recipe that you’d like to share? Think you discovered the next great jam band? Share your suggestions with us here at OZY! Email us: Weekender@ozy.com.
Around the world last year, coal power started to decline: More plants were closed than were built and the globe’s coal power capacity went down by 2.8 gigawatts.
But that’s about to change, and it all has to do with China. In a break with the global trend, China added 25.5 gigawatts to its coal capacity last year. And it’s due to ramp that up, as the world’s biggest energy consumer ignores global pressure to rein in carbon emissions in its bid to boost a slowing economy.
China is building or preparing to build 148 gigawatts of new coal-fired plants, equivalent to the EU’s entire coal capacity.
That’s according to a report from Global Energy Monitor, a nonprofit group that monitors coal stations. The current capacity of the entire European Union coal fleet is 149 gigawatts. While the rest of the world has been largely reducing coal-powered capacity over the past two years, China is building so much coal power that it more than offsets the decline elsewhere.
Ted Nace, head of Global Energy Monitor, says the new coal plants will have a significant impact on China’s already-increasing carbon emissions.
“What is being built in China is single-handedly turning what would be the beginning of the decline of coal into the continued growth of coal,” he says, adding that China was “swamping” global progress in bringing down emissions.
Concerns over air pollution and overinvestment in coal prompted China to suspend construction of hundreds of coal stations in 2016. But many have since been restarted, as Beijing seeks to stimulate an economy growing at its slowest pace since the early 1990s.
Pressure has been increasing on China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to reduce emissions, which have been creeping up since 2016, and hit a record high last year.
China has pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 as part of the Paris climate agreement. However, a number of countries including the EU, have been urging China to move that date forward.
The report shows the pace of new construction starts of Chinese coal stations rose 5 percent in the first half of 2019, against the same period last year. About 121 gigawatts of coal power is actively under construction in China, slightly lower than the same point a year ago.
The renewed push into coal has been driven by Chinese energy companies desperate to gain market share and by local governments that view coal plants as a source of jobs and investment. While electricity demand in China rose 8.5 percent last year, the current grid is already oversupplied and coal stations are used only about half the time.
“The utilization of coal-fired power plants will reach a record low this year, so there is no justification to build these coal plants,” says Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, a think tank. “But that is not the logic that investment follows in China.… There is little regard for the long-term economics of the investments that are being made.”
journalist Anne Ramstorf spent her final high school year abroad in Scotland
and then two years volunteering in Vietnam. Yet it wasn’t until she moved to the
southwest German town of Tübingen to start university that she first realized many
Germans saw her as different.
“Ah, so you’re a Zoni,” one of her classmates told her. Ramstorf had never heard the word before and asked what she meant. “You know, you come from the Zone.”
Seated at her kitchen table in western Berlin, wearing mismatched dangly earrings, Ramstorf laughs lightly with incredulity, recalling the moment as the first time she thought: “Apparently, I am different.”
There are also people in the east — and it’s most people in the east — that support an open and free society.
Ramstorf, 28, was born in the southeast corner of Berlin two years after the Berlin Wall fell, and she grew up there too. Her entire life has taken place in a reunified Germany. Yet she is part of a trend of young people who identify self-assuredly as eastern Germans. In 2018, some 22 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds in eastern Germany said they were eastern German first, a report by the Otto Brenner Foundation found. The corresponding figure for western Germany was 8 percent.
Exploring eastern German identity has also become the inspirational bedrock of Ramstorf’s journalism career, as she tries to upend how her home is portrayed in the media. Last year she launched her podcast Ostwärts: Eine Ode an den Osten (Eastwards: An Ode to the East).
Ramstorf as a toddler with her cousin.
Her work at the regional magazine Super Illu had her traveling around the five German states that had been part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Following an influx of 1 million asylum seekers, reports on xenophobic, far-right movements rooted in the east, like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), dominated national media coverage, as did descriptions of eastern Germans as poverty-stricken and dependent, a legacy of reunification. Ramstorf found these uniformly negative reports didn’t reflect the diversity and vibrancy she was seeing around her.
“That’s when I said, We need a platform … to show others that there are also people in the east — and it’s most people in the east — that support an open and free society,” she says.
The stories in Ramstorf’s podcast are of down-and-out towns that have been rejuvenated, grassroots international initiatives helping to fill Germany’s skilled-worker shortfall, recycling Communist-era prefab apartments for climate-friendly construction. Her subjects range from artists to development workers to digital entrepreneurs. What binds them together is that they’re all from eastern Germany — and their positive stories often get overshadowed nationally. Though she has yet to have a story gain significant national traction, her unique framing, rooted in history and geography, provides a fresh perspective on a region that is stigmatized and homogenized.
Ramstorf interviewing Turkish artist Yigit Daldikler in the eastern German village of Kalbe.
One reason behind this flattened image of the east is that the national media is largely shaped by perceptions from western Germany. Roughly 17 percent of Germans live in the eastern states, but no nationwide newspaper or publishing house has its primary headquarters there. Reporters parachute in to cover events like state elections or racist attacks, only to depart soon after. For many, the region remains a “Dark Germany,” a place full of reprehensible ideologies, void of success and largely unknown.
Political communication consultant Johannes Hillje says this has led to superficial, one-sided and cliché-filled coverage of the eastern states. They’re treated almost as if they were foreign countries — “ostalismus,” he calls it, a term based on Edward Said’s Orientalism theory. While he thinks a podcast can reach only a limited segment of society, he still believes Ramstorf’s project is a good first step, because she contributes to a more differentiated, holistic picture.
Ramstorf says she can’t reveal her show’s statistics for advertising reasons, but she says each episode has thousands of listeners, mostly in Germany. She works freelance and is paid per episode upon purchase by the Burda publishing house. Work is slated to continue through December, and she hopes to secure more financing to keep her passion project going. “I fall in love with nearly all my protagonists,” she gushes.
Her deep personal motivation comes across to her interview subjects. “I think I said things that I hadn’t thought about before. I believe I learned things about myself,” says Josa Mania-Schlegel, an eastern German journalist whom Ramstorf interviewed for an episode in May. “It’s clearly more than just her job that she has to get done.”
Ramstorf is not afraid to laugh at herself, but she speaks in a distressed tone, gesturing with her hands when she talks about people who are unable to think freely because they live under repressive regimes, like the former GDR. She says people of her parents’ generation have criticized her as being too young to talk about an east-west divide. Others contend that focusing on the positive distracts from the reality that far-right movements, such as the Alternative for Germany, enjoy higher levels of support in eastern states than elsewhere.
She is receptive to such criticism, agreeing that these facts must not be forgotten. But she is firm in her convictions and choices. “If you only show one side and silence the other, you don’t paint the full picture,” she says. “This doesn’t mean that others don’t exist. But they simply don’t have a place in my project. Period.”
OZY’s 5 Questions With Anne Ramstorf
What’s the last book you finished?The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson.
What do you worry about? When I simply look around and see how anti-democratic our world is becoming right now.
What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Wonderful people, who are there to catch me when it’s all shit and celebrate when it’s good. I’m lucky to have a lot of these people in my life.
What’s one item on your bucket list? I’d like to go abroad again for an extended period of time, for one or two years, and work there.
If you weren’t a journalist, what would you be? Good question, because I honestly have my dream job. But I think I would have been a biologist.
Everyone who’s ever used a dating app — or ever dated, period — knows that looks matter. Aside from the usual front-and-center photo (and the myriad online guides to choosing the best angles and lighting to increase your chances of a connection), there are dating sites that require you to submit a photo to be judged before you’ll even be allowed on.
Of course, your face isn’t all you have to offer. And if we’re going to date via app (which most of us have decided to, just like we decided Twitter and Love Island were good ideas), it’s reasonable that those preferring to be judged by their hearts rather their faces would look for a different way to date.
A growing band of apps are emerging to offer just that. Taffy shows you photos of a person — but only after you exchange 10 messages. Lex, which launched in November, is for members of the queer community, discourages participation from straight men and has “a zero-tolerance policy for creeps.”
We believe in love. We believe in the true, crazy and wonderful love.
Juan Alonso, Appetence co-founder
Appetence required that you get to know someone before being shown their photo. It’s in the process of transforming into another app, If Not You, Nobody, with similar principles.
“We believe in love. We believe in the true, crazy and wonderful love,” says Madrid-based Juan Alonso, Appetence’s co-founder.
With the app’s new approach, two would-be daters will engage in a flirtatious game of learning about each other, during which their profile pictures are slowly revealed. The app’s website is now taking sign-ups for the beta test.
Some apps haven’t survived. Twine, which launched in 2013, showed only a blurred version of your Facebook profile picture until you chose to reveal that photo to whomever you were sparking with via chat. The following year, Twine’s parent company, Sourcebits, was sold and founder Rohit Singal had to shut down the project. Still, it was hardly a waste of time. “I continue to get emails from people who got connected via Twine and even got married, so I am sure there is merit to this idea,” Singal says.
Appetence, for those who believe in “crazy and wonderful love.”
Singal cautions that such apps will never go “viral as something like Tinder,” adding, “It can’t be grown like a typical Silicon Valley startup with huge capital infusion, but something that is to be done organically.” Such dating apps, he says, have to move slowly to find their niche.
The Lex app, for the queer community, has a zero-tolerance policy for creeps.
That’s exactly what Personals — an Instagram account since shut down and released as dating app Lex — did. “Writing a personal, sitting down to write something, it just slows down the process for you,” says Kelly Rakowski, who founded the Instagram account in 2017. “You have to be more mindful … than with these other dating apps. What do I want to say? How do I want to present myself? What am I looking for?” The account began as part of Rakowski’s own Instagram, then became so popular that it needed its own account. The wait between submitting an ad and seeing it online could be weeks.
“I don’t get all the stories, but there is a hashtag, #MetOnPersonals, and people DM me to say they met their person on Personals,” Rakowski says. “Just yesterday, someone came up to me and said they just got out of a one-year relationship with someone they met on Personals.”
One of the only such apps still extant in its original form is Taffy. Blurry profile pics are topped with catchy headlines (“posts”), which serve as the main conversation starters. After 10 lines of chat, you can see peoples’ —unblurred — photos and then opt to ghost them, if you’re that kind of jerk. The main complaints in the reviews focus on there not being enough members and having to sign up via Facebook (which is no longer a requirement as of the relaunch earlier this year). Still, those who love “slow dating” seem to really love it — all part of the gradual process of building community.
As runners toe the start line in Cleveland’s Public Square, giddy chatter and palpable anticipation fill the crisp air. Unlike most race mornings though, these runners aren’t nervous — or competitive. This swarm of thousands of pink-bunny and leg-lamp costumed racers has one goal in mind: Reach Ralphie’s house to win a coveted A Christmas Story medal. This year, it’s a golden “Oh Fudge” Ralphie with soap in his mouth. Last year, it was a medallion with that pack of crazy Bumpus dogs.
Cleveland’s annual A Christmas Story 5K and 10K Run is not your average race — although one look at the starting line’s sea of elaborate costumes makes this obvious. This offbeat competition is a holiday celebration centered on the 36-year-old A Christmas Story movie that was filmed in Cleveland. And it’s a great way to run off that Thanksgiving dinner and get an ornament for your Christmas tree.
In its seventh year, the race takes almost 10,000 runners from the former Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first saw that Red Ryder BB Gun, across Cleveland and up through Tremont, where Ralphie’s home — now the popular A Christmas Story house museum — sits almost exactly 5 kilometers away. (Participants in the 10K race turn around and cross the finish back in Public Square.)
In 2016, a flock of “I can’t put my arms down!” runners and walkers traversed the 3-mile course in overstuffed snowsuits.
Americans love the holiday comedy — case in point: Every year since 1997, TBS has aired a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. But there’s also big love for the goofy race, something that continues to surprise race director Amy Kentner. It drew 7,000 runners in the first year (2012). The race, which also has a virtual participation option, now grows by about 300 runners, walkers and fans of the movie annually. Each participant’s bib has a built-in chip for timing; results are posted live online come race day, with a holiday-themed awards ceremony for the top three men and women in each age group.
“This race is different because probably one-third of participants aren’t actually runners, they’re just fans of the movie,” Kentner says. “They walk the course, and many love the medals so much they put them on their Christmas trees.”
While the movie location course is the A Christmas Story Run’s allure, the hilarious yearly themes are perhaps the biggest draw. In 2016, a flock of “I can’t put my arms down!” runners and walkers traversed the 3-mile course in overstuffed snowsuits. For last year’s “Bumpus dogs” theme, organizers allowed 400 pups in the race. Kentner anticipates quite a few soap bar costumes with this year’s “Oh Fudge!” celebration.
The hysterical rotation of over-the-top costumes is one reason four-time runner Jackey Deschamps of Buffalo, New York, turned the run into a family tradition. “Just walking around prerace checking out everyone’s costumes is so much fun,” she says. One of her favorites? “Someone with a table built around them, wearing a bib like Randy does, and having a plate full of mashed potatoes in front of them.”
The prized possession for completing the race — Ralphie, with soap in his mouth.
But attire is only part of the run fun. The spot-on details — another draw for the Deschamps family — are Kentner’s pride and joy. The run is “all about the experience,” Kentner says. There’s a Jumbotron playing the movie at the start line, and 30 trivia facts about the movie displayed via signs along the course, she explains, adding, “And because you have to have your Ovaltine, we heat up 600 gallons of it at the finish.”
Which is something you’re going to have to make for yourself if you’re doing the race remotely — an option for those who want to race like Ralphie but can’t make it to his hometown (it’s been available each year since the run began). Virtual participants get their T-shirt, running bib and medals beforehand to join the race-day fun, although nothing beats physically running alongside a sea of leg lamps and pink bunnies.
A 20-foot high pink Ralphie bunny and fans in pink onesies pose at the race.
All of the race’s net proceeds go toward A Christmas Story Foundation, a nonprofit that maintains the neighborhood surrounding the museum. So far the race raised over $500,000 in six years. Pair this with the opportunity for people from all walks of life to let loose and bond over silly attire and holiday cheer, and the A Christmas Story Run is a feel-good race all around.
Deschamps recalls when her friend Tim, a police sergeant for downtown Cleveland, dressed up for the race in a pink bunny costume. “Fellow officers did a double take after they recognized him and said, very seriously, ‘Hello Sergeant.’ It was quite comical.”
Location: The A Christmas Story Run starts in Cleveland’s Public Square (50 Public Square, Suite 1700) before heading across town to Ralphie’s actual house in Tremont. The 5K finishes in front of Ralphie’s residence (3159 W. 11th St.), with 10K runners looping back to the finish line in Public Square.
Race date: The race starts at 9 am ET on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
Entry fees: The 5K, 10K and virtual race registration cost $55 (Note: Fee for the virtual race increases mid-November).
Pro tip: For the full holiday experience, budget extra time to explore the A Christmas Story house. Race participants get free admittance to this quirky, movie-themed museum in the real-life filming location.
Companies in Kashmir can finally restore their internet connections, which have been suspended for four months. But it will come at a cost. They’ll have to give the government a signed bond saying that internet usage will be restricted to “business purposes.” They must also promise to share all “contents” and “infrastructure” that they watch or use on the internet when asked by “security agencies.”
The bond, a copy of which this reporter has seen, consists of six points, including that no encrypted file containing any sort of videos or photos will be uploaded. Other points state that “for the allowed IP, there will be no social networking, proxies, VPNs and Wi-Fi” and “that all the USB ports will be disabled on the network.” Government officials say companies will be held responsible “for any kind of breach and misuse of internet.”
It’s the latest chapter in Kashmir’s struggle for that most basic of 21st-century commodities: the internet. On Aug. 5, just hours before the Narendra Modi government revoked Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status and split it into two union territories, authorities had suspended all communication lines across the valley to “prevent any law-and-order situation.”
“The process of restoration of internet services has been started from government departments, followed by the hospitality sector,” says an official, on condition of anonymity. Government departments have had to sign a similar bond, with the head of the department to be held responsible in case of any misuse. “Whoever was allowed to use these services was asked to sign a bond taking responsibility that there will be no misuse of the facility,” the official adds. “Some of the connections of bureaucrats have also been restored.”
The clearance to restore internet connections comes from the office of the inspector general of police. Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir Baseer Khan, while acknowledging that internet has been restored in some places, also acknowledges that “all connections are being monitored.”
Meanwhile, travel and hospitality sector businesses in a recent meeting had categorically said they won’t engage in any promotional campaigns unless internet services are fully restored. “We are ready to sign a bond that we will use the internet facility only for sending tour itineraries and financial transactions,” they said in a statement. “Government should ease restrictions on the internet, or else the business community, especially tourism sector, is doomed.”
The Modi government in mid-October lifted a travel ban it had enforced on tourists visiting Kashmir. But hospitality sector executives say they can’t communicate effectively with customers without the internet.
It’s an honor that few golfers receive. Even Tiger Woods has never enjoyed a ticker tape parade in New York City.
But on July 21, 1953, more than 150,000 people took to Broadway’s Great White Way, officially renamed “Hogan’s Alley” for the day, to celebrate one of golf’s greatest at the pinnacle of his career. Fresh off winning the 1953 Masters Tournament, the U.S Open and the Open Championship, 40-year-old Ben Hogan sat in an open Chrysler limo, dressed immaculately, as usual, in a gray business suit.
After receiving an official citation from the mayor on the steps of City Hall, one of the game’s most enigmatic figures cleared his throat and spoke into the microphone. “I have a tough skin,” he admitted, his voice cracking, “but I have a soft spot in my heart and … and … right now I feel like crying. This is the greatest moment of my life.”
The steely-eyed son of a Texas blacksmith, the almost mythical maestro of the game whom The New York Times once called “Golf’s Iron-Willed Legend,” never showed emotion, and it perhaps explains his unusual path to the top.
Hogan didn’t win his first major until he was 34. Then he was almost killed by a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus that left him with both legs shattered. But just when everyone had written Hogan off, he fought back, pulling off perhaps the best year any professional golfer has ever had. Hogan’s remarkable rise itself was unlikely, and it grew out of a childhood trauma, one that even the iron-willed Hogan could never completely block out.
Between 1940 and 1959, despite spending nearly two years serving during World War II, Ben Hogan won 68 professional golf tournaments, including four U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, two Masters Championships and the only British Open Championship he ever played in (the British Open and PGA championships were once played so close together that it was impossible to play both).
In 16 U.S. Open appearances, Hogan never placed lower than fifth, including the unforgettable 1950 Open, which he limped through and won just 16 months after the debilitating Greyhound accident. It was an astonishing run of dominance by one of the sporting world’s most mysterious, impenetrable figures.
Hogan’s father, Chester Hogan.
It was not surprising that William Ben Hogan, born in 1912, in Dublin, Texas, became an icon. Quiet yet intense, the 5-foot-9 perfectionist known as Bantam Ben was short on charisma and hated to give interviews. Sometimes, he was outright misanthropic, choosing to live in a home with just one bedroom, reportedly to rule out the possibility of houseguests. But Hogan was also disciplined — always immaculately attired — and was a rugged individualist with a legendary work ethic. He would memorize distances and every relevant aspect of a course before a competition, meticulously playing ball after ball to account for every conceivable position. “The more I practice,” he once curtly explained to reporters, “the luckier I get.”
Hogan’s path into one of the most nation’s most privileged pastimes was also the product of relentless practice and a rough childhood, including an unthinkable tragedy. In 1922, his father, Chester, who was struggling to find work, and likely suffering from depression, pulled a .38-caliber revolver from a carpetbag after an argument with Hogan’s mother and shot himself in the chest — with his 9-year-old son reportedly in the room.
The shot pierced Chester’s heart and killed him.
“Hogan was haunted by the specter of having lost the one thing he loved, a father he just revered,” says James Dodson, author of Ben Hogan: An American Life.
Not only was Hogan’s childhood and emotional well-being shattered, his father’s death placed the family in dire economic straits. His 14-year-old brother dropped out of school to take a delivery job, and Ben, a fourth grader, started selling newspapers after school, eventually taking a job as a caddie at the Glen Garden Country Club. Hogan woke before sunset and walked 6 miles to the club from his house each day to earn 65 cents per 18 holes. Some days, he slept in a bunker to be the first in line to claim a bag. But the eager teenager devoured the game and spent hours on the practice range between jobs, burying his pain in his devotion to the sport he loved. He became a lone wolf of the links.
The bottom line, says Dodson, is that golf was not merely about competing for Hogan, it was about survival.
“His real secret was that nobody had a life like him,” say Dodson, whose body of work includes A Golfer’s Life, a collaboration with Arnold Palmer. “Nobody survived what he had. He was a kid of the streets, a character straight out of Dickens.”
Agata Gruszka’s morning coffee habit wasn’t cutting it. A manager at a software company, Gruszka would start the day ready to crush her to-do list, but by midday her energy was flagging — especially after a trip to Bali messed up her sleep schedule. To get ahead, she realized she needed more rest. After setting a consistent pre-midnight bedtime, Gruszka noticed her career taking off. “There was less brain fog throughout the day, and I’m able to think more creatively,” she says.
Gruszka, in short, tapped into something research is increasingly telling us about the benefits of a good night’s rest: The quality of sleep matters and can boost our work performance.
“Sleep is akin to a performance-enhancing drug,” says Philip Gehrman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the scientific advisory board for sleep fitness company Eight Sleep. The company created a tech-enabled mattress called the Pod that regulates a person’s temperature while sleeping and then delivers sleep-tracking data every morning to analyze your sleep quality.
It’s not just the number of hours spent in bed; it’s also the soundness of sleep that matters, and even slight blips or disturbances can mess with productivity.
In fact, according to a recent study from the University of South Florida:
Getting just 16 minutes less sleep than normal can negatively affect work performance.
The study found that a change in sleep routine set off a domino effect: Poor sleep, both in terms of quantity and quality, led to stress and anxiety at work the next day. In turn, study participants sought relief by going to bed earlier the following night, but that backfired: Researchers found this tactic led to poor sleep and even greater fatigue. On the flip side, sound sleepers may be better able to handle the ups and downs of a typical workday because of a “greater ability to stay focused,” according to the study, which was led by Soomi Lee, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Aging Studies.
But going to bed earlier doesn’t guarantee a good night’s rest, experts caution. While eight hours is an oft-cited number, everyone’s circadian rhythm is different, and research has found that quality is just as important as quantity.
Sleep disorders can also affect the quality of sleep. “Someone with sleep apnea may sleep a long duration but wake up 200 times a night and not notice it, which is enough to totally fragment their sleep and leave them feeling sleepy all day,” explains Craig Heller, a biology professor at Stanford University.
Conditions for sleep, such as temperature, can make a big difference. “People sleeping cool may toss and turn less and get up fewer times, so their quality of sleep is better and they feel more energized the next day,” says Heller. “Our ‘thermostat’ that controls our body temperature is deep in the brain. It responds to changes in overall core temperature, but we don’t consciously sense our core temperature. The skin temperature is an input to the thermostat that changes its set points. A cool environment gives you the ability to adjust your body’s comfort level when you’re sleeping.”
The good news: Christine Stevens, a sleep consultant in the Washington, D.C., area, says a societal shift has elevated sleep to the same level as fitness and nutrition. “It used to be a badge of honor to say, ‘I only slept for five hours last night.’ Now, when someone says that at work, it’s the same as announcing you ate a dozen doughnuts for dinner,” she says. In fact, many people are taking it seriously enough that they’re hiring sleep coaches like Stevens or investing in sleep-specific trackers.
Experts like Heller say being mindful of your sleep patterns can set you up for success. Technology, he says, can help us “improve our sleep over time and empower us to make decisions on wellness we couldn’t before.”
Tech tools like the tracking and dynamic heating and cooling in the Eight Sleep Pod can help through temperature regulation by keeping you cool throughout the night and through the capturing of key data to help you hack your sleep cycle to achieve optimal performance.
Bottom line: When it comes to success, big dreams are great. But it just may be that sleep is the secret ingredient to make them come true.
Eight Sleep is a sleep technology company committed to fueling human potential through optimal sleep. The Eight Sleep Pod was just named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019.